I’m struggling to define what ‘normal’ means when it comes to my children and their development. Sure, I’ve read all the ‘in’ guides on child development but what does it all mean? Particularly when your own children aren’t defined as ‘normal’?
My son is 7 and was diagnosed with albinism at 11 weeks of age and with autism at 4 years of age. Basically, from the start, we knew he was not ‘normal’ and would not reach development goals at the same age as others.
We were (and still remain) cool with this – he has a significant vision impairment as a result of his albinism and obviously has a range of social and behavioral difficulties associated with his autism diagnosis.
Despite these challenges, he’s preparing to transition to a mainstream school next year, is learning to swim and play the piano and has made some genuine friendships with his classmates. His progress and his determination to succeed has made us proud!
My youngest daughter is 14 months and, so far, is meeting all her development milestones. Which is reassuring, but not a guaranteed indicator of a ‘normal’ future.
I’m not sure whether we over-analyze things because of our earlier experiences, but there are times when she seeks stimulation, which may indicate other issues down the track. But for now, she is doing really well and is much loved by both her brother and sister (and, of course, us too!)
Which brings me to my eldest daughter who’s 5 and has no recognized diagnoses – yet. Rightly or wrongly, we always considered her our ‘normal’ child and initially we had no concerns about her development.
She did everything earlier than our son (as expected) and her daycare and pre-school carers never mentioned any concerns about any facet of her development.
However, in the last year or so we began to realize that everything wasn’t okay, especially in terms of school readiness. Her speech wasn’t clear, she liked using made-up words and she’d often chew on her clothing and other objects.
Despite having been in daycare since the age of 1 she still had bouts of separation anxiety. While she seemed to be social with others, she didn’t have any particular friends – or those she had were far younger than her.
So, in the last year, we’ve navigated the health system to get some answers. We’ve attended a variety of assessments and have seen several specialists to pinpoint what is going on. So far, we’ve seen an audiologist, pediatric ENT, speech pathologist, occupational therapist, and the school counsellor. So far the results are inconclusive.
Next up is the paediatrician who, we hope, can make sense of it all for us. We don’t necessarily want a label for our daughter but we do want to give her the best chance to succeed. We just need to know what we are dealing with in order to best help her.
There is a definite feeling of deja vu with all the visits to the same specialists who played a part in the diagnoses of our son. And accompanying this feeling of deja vu is an even stronger feeling of guilt and failure.
Why didn’t we pick up her difficulties earlier? Were we too wrapped up in our son’s difficulties to fail to notice hers? Are her difficulties genuine or has she learned them from her brother? Are we over-thinking it all and becoming over-concerned and over-zealous parents?
I don’t have any answers, any answers at all. I’m hoping to have a clearer picture of things by the end of this month, but I have a suspicion it’s not going to be that easy. All I know is that I am the last person in the world to ask what should be considered ‘normal’!
I love my kids desperately – all I want to do is help them become the best they can be. Personally, I don’t give a hoot if they’re ‘normal’ or not. As long as they are happy, that’s all that matters to me.
But I do often wonder at the emphasis in our society of ‘normal’ development and behaviour and the stigma attached to those that are not ‘normal’.
For all our sakes, I do hope we all become a little more accepting of differences and learn to embrace the unique gifts of those who do not fit neatly into the little box of ‘normal’.